AUSTIN, TX — At some point walking around last weekend in Austin, it struck me that it was less a question of who was at the eighth edition of the Fun Fun Fun Fest, as opposed to who wasn't. Over three days, over 90 acts covering an impossibly wide array of genres—hip hop, electronica, metal, indie, hard core, etc.—filled Auditorium Shores under predominantly gray skies and cooler-than-expected temps. If that wasn't enough to keep your attention, there was a skate/ride park, a comedy tent, a mechanical bull, a professional wrestling ring, and the one and only taco cannon. And, if you were somehow still standing at the end of each 10-hour day, there were dozens of aftershows in clubs throughout Austin, free to festivalgoers.
Over the three days, I caught somewhere in the range of 40 acts despite not arriving at the festival until late afternoon each day. You can see read my recaps below; additional pics can be found on the photo page: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Johnny Marr (Manchester, UK): One of Fun Fun Fun Fest's hallmarks are the legendary musicians they're able to draw, and few loomed larger than guitarist/songwriter Johnny Marr, who played the Orange Stage on Friday afternoon. Best known as the lead guitarist for The Smiths, Marr has also had stints in Modest Mouse The Pretenders, Pet Shop Boys, and others. Marr's set was heavy on selections from his new solo effort, The Messenger, but he made sure not to disappoint Smiths fans, playing no fewer than five songs from that memorable catalog.
No Age (Los Angeles, CA): The drummer/guitar duo thing might be getting a bit overdone, but these no-wave vets were one of the first to get there, building their sound through countless gigs on stages large and small. Eight years later, drummer/vocalist Dean Spunt and guitarist Randy Randall are still going strong, lighting up the black stage with their high-energy thrash/punk.
Thee Oh Sees (San Francisco, CA): Having seen these guys everywhere from Billyburg to Barcelona, I knew what to expect from the SF psych-garage foursome, but was still blown away by the blend of lead singer John Dwyer's manic convulsing and Bidget Dawson's more straightforward keyboards/backup vocals. Gotta say, I was a bit surprised by how old these guys are looking these days, but I guess when you tour as relentlessly as they do, it's gonna wear on your eventually.
Big Freedia (New Orleans, LA): Hate Miley? Blame Big Freedia, the self-proclaimed Queen of Sissy Bounce, whose stage show has degenerated from shocking spectacle into tired crowd pleaser, filling the Blue Stage with overeager twentysomethings twerking as Freedia shouted "Azz Everywhere! Azz Everywhere!" Did someone actually give this girl a TV show?
The Walkmen (New York, NY): You can always count on the home team to deliver the goods, and The Walkmen did not disappoint with an hour-long set on the Orange Stage that was as solid as any I heard the entire weekend. Hamilton Leithauser and his journeyman band were tight and energetic, seamlessly melding acoustic and electric with a delicate twang com fitting right in with Austin's roots rock heritage.
Lupe Fiasco (Chicago, IL): A throwback to when Kanye wasn't a complete asshole, fellow Windy City native Fiasco delivered the goods with a tight, high-energy set on the Blue Stage, backed by stunning visuals and orchestral samples. Fiasco's lyrics bent towards the intelligent and socially conscious—qualities all too rare in today's hip-hop culture.
RJD2 (Eugene, OR): In an age where DJ's have replaced record players with MacBooks, true turntablists are becoming like period-instrument orchestras. Which made RJD2s set on the Blue Stage all the more impressive—blending everything from indie rock, electronica, and old Star Trek soundtracks into a propulsive, psychedelic haze. Brilliant.
Snoop Dogg (Los Angeles, CA): Like the id to Lupe Fiasco's super-ego, Snoop Dogg's set was more parody than performance, with his sidekicks repeatedly shouting to the crowd: "Who likes to get drunk out there? Who likes to smoke weed?" As if he wasn't enough of a joke already, Snoop Dogg now wants to be seen as some kind of Rasta king, referring to himself as Snoop Lion and smoking a blunt on the cover of his new release, Reincarnated. Parents: Keep your kids away from this junk.
Saturday, Nov. 9
Chelsea Light Moving (New York, NY): When Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon separated two years ago, that pretty much put an end to Sonic Youth for good. But, instead of kicking back in early retirement, Moore arrived on the Orange Stage on Saturday with his new quartet, Chelsea Light Moving, essentially picking up right where SY left off with wild experimental guitar flights and aggressive, almost defiant vocals. And, yes, the band is named after the same moving company run by Philip Glass and Steve Reich back in the '70s. Cool.
Melt-Banana (Tokyo, Japan): What's with the name of this Japanese duo? Haven't they ever heard of the posessive pronoun? Is it: Melt my banana? Or, melt your banana? Anyway, the ridiculous speedball punk of guitarist Ichirou Agata and vocalist Yasuko Onuki—who clutched a remote-control electronic device—drove dozens of stagedivers gleefully into the mosh pit. If only more American bands were this unbridled and unabashedly silly.
Pelican (Chicago, IL): Melding the postrock instrumentals of Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky with the speed and intensity of metal, Pelican were the great new discovery of this edition of the Fun Fun Fun Fest. The foursome (two guitars, bass, drums) were almost classical in their tight precision, compelling me to stay put for their entire mesmerizing set.
Television (New York, NY): I mean, c'mon. Television may be 40 years on, but they are still among the half-dozen bands who can legitimately lay claim to being godfathers of indie rock. Hearing Tom Verlaine's vocals and Jimmy Rip's meandering guitars on "Marquee Moon" is like listening to rock history, performed live. Ain't the same without Richard Lloyd, though.
Tycho (San Francisco, CA): Producer Scott Hansen records his electronic albums solo, but brought a backing band with him to Austin that included Zac Brown's guitar and Rory O'Connor on drums. With bursts of white lights shining overhead, it was a melodic, peaceful way to transition into the evening.
Quasi (Portland, OR): Drummer Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney, Wild Flag) and keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist Sam Coomes (The Donner Party) have been performing together for 20 years; at one point, they were also married to each other. Now friends, their sound is way more experimental than pop, with Coomes playing crazy keyboard solos that belong in some free-jazz scenario. When he flopped his entire body on his Hammond, you knew it was time to move on.
Deerhunter (Atlanta, GA): After spending two years performing as Atlas Sound, Bradford Cox went back into a Brooklyn studio with his original band this past January, yielding a new LP, Monomania, and a richer, tighter sound. Playing on the Orange Stage as night took over Auditorium Shores, they've never sounded better.
As tempting as it was to stick around for competing headliners MIA (Orange), Ice-T (Blue), or Descendants (Black), it would be another hour before any of them went on, so I decided instead to bail early and get a jump on the Saturday night scene on 6th Street. Eventually, I made my way to Red 7, where local funk/soul outfit Brownout was playing the outdoor stage in back. I would have also liked to have stuck around for headliners Lee Fields and the Expressions, but with a 12:30 a.m. start time, I needed to leave something in the tank for the final day of FFF8.
Sunday, Nov. 10
Bridget Everett (New York, NY): Proof positive that big girls have way more fun, Everett—who can regularly be seen at Joe's Pub—sashayed her way around the Yellow Tent, singing torch songs that vacillated between tragedy and comedy, often at the same time. In an outrageous moment that would make even Snoop Dogg blush, Everett pulled a kid who looked like he was 17 up on stage, promising to give him "the ride of his life." Then, in an act that can only be described as triumphant, she stripped down to her bra and flopped her entire 200-pound-plus torso on his. Fortunately, the paramedics weren't required.
Cro-Mags (New York, NY): One of the essential NYC '80s hardcore bands, the Cro-Mags played a fierce hour-long set on the Black Stage, inspiring the biggest mosh pit of the weekend (well, aside from the yet-to-come headliners). Among the first to merge hardcore with metal, they are still a force to be reckoned with, 30+ years on.
Dismemberment Plan (Washington, D.C.): I spent far longer watching these guys than I originally intended, thanks mostly to Travis Morrison's wizardly lyrics and the band's overall tightness. Twenty years on, these guys are right in their sweet spot.
Deltron 3030 (Oakland, CA): When was the last time you saw a live orchestra on a rock-festival stage? That's what hip-hop supergroup Deltron 3030 delivered on the Blue Stage, where Del the Funky Homosapien rapped, Kid Koala spun, and Dan the Automator conducted strings, horns, a four-person choir, drums, and guitars. With a baton. It was an epic performance that seamlessly blended 19th-century acoustics with 21st-century technology and lyrics that purported to come from the third millenium. Believe me, it was even better than it sounds.
MGMT (Brooklyn, NY): Good news: They sang their big anthems "Kids" and "Time For Pretend." Bad news: They also sang a lot of their other listless, meandering crap that no one wants to hear. I'm all for artistic integrity, but don't expect me to stay and listen. Especially with a poet on the premises . . .
Daniel Johnston (Waller, TX): I had only seen the Oracle of Texas once before, through a crack in the wall at Emo's during ACL back in 2008. This time, I made sure I got to the Yellow Stage in plenty of time before his set. Johnston—his hand shaking in the pocket of his black jacket, his white hair unruly—played an abbreviated set, but still managed to run through "Speeding Motorcycle," "True Love Will Find You In the End," and "Devil Town," which he dedicated to "all those who think they're about to die." A dream fulfilled. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, watch this.)
The Locust (San Diego, CA): OK, these guys freaked me out. Wearing full body suits, they ran through songs that lasted barely a minute. It was more experimental than hardcore, using repetition, long drones, uncomfortable silences, and quick cut-offs. It didn't quite come together in the end, though the crowd at the Black Stage seemed generally amused, at least.
Slayer (California): I was lucky enough to see the speed-metal overlords the last time they played FFF, in 2011, and their closing set this year covered much of the same ground. Which is to say: an epic maelstrom of guitars, drums, and Tom Araya's ridiculously loud vocals. How these guys are able to deliver a show of this energy and virtuosity well into their 50s is completely dumbfounding.
Jurassic 5 (Los Angeles, CA): The hip-hop vets trafficked in melodic hooks and playful harmonies, with the five Jurassics putting on a master class of synchronicity. And, if that weren't enough, Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark took turns manipulating the giant turntable that looked like it was just another stage prop. Awesome.
King Khan & The Shrines (Berlin, DE): All hail the King, back stateside after a too-long hiatus with his wild version of soul-funk, backed by brass, guitars, keyboards, and kazoos. With his big belly hanging out of his velvet robe, he's like the unholy spawn of James Brown and Rick James, especially when he reaches for his guitar. I did wonder what happened to the cheerleaders, though . . .
See you again, Fun Fun Fun Fest, in a year or two.